Expecting a baby is one of the most precious and intense moments in life. Every sense and feeling is multiplied and it’s the perfect opportunity to take the time to tune into your body and listen to every little change. This extra-ordinary experience, in every meaning of the term, can lead you to (re)discover yourself, in the most intimate aspects.
The physical, emotional and hormonal changes are extreme during these 9 months, and the question “Is this normal?” often comes along with Motherhood, especially during a first pregnancy. Any little fears or anxiety can darken this dreamy moment.
I hear you, not having any point of reference or comparison can be frightening! Wondering “how to have a healthy pregnancy“ and “how to have a healthy baby” are legitimate questions, so let’s try to clear the air.
It's now more important than ever to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. Learning about your changing body, respecting it and pampering yourself can bring your pregnancy to the next level.
Here are some of the keys for your pregnant health!
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+ 1. Filter pregnancy advice
There are a lot of “do’s and don’ts” out there within the best pregnancy tips people throw at you. Once pregnant, women are often inundated with pregnancy tips and advice. Everyone has an opinion to share, and there are a ton of books and websites out there, many with information that might be useful, but sadly also contradictory information. So how can pregnant women know what and who to believe?
My very first tip for pregnancy is to remind yourself to “filter advice”. We often forget that our body is designed to grow and deliver babies. Unless there’s a medical issue, I would recommend you trust your body and the process. Your medical team or midwife are there to guide you with pregnancy advice and support you along the way. Hopefully your partner is there too, and even if he’ll live the pregnancy through you, this is also an intense experience for him. In other words, you aren’t alone so try to find information through the persons you trust and surround you, before trying to dig on the overwhelming world of the Internet.
+ 2. Fitness and early pregnancy tips
The first trimester is the most fragile stage of pregnancy. All the baby’s major organs and systems are formed. This is what I called my “crappy trimester”. Despite the excitement of the pregnancy discovery and first sonogram, the first few months can be filled with fatigue, nausea and vomiting… These feelings can really put a damper on your best intentions to exercise. If you are totally exhausted, it’s important to honor your body and rest. Now isn’t the time to push yourself – learn how to go with the flow and listen to your needs. As your body adjusts to the hormones of pregnancy, there is a good chance that your appetite and energy will come back in the second trimester. So hang in there! I remember days when I only did a few minutes of abdominal breathing exercises and a short walk to get some fresh air and get out of the house.
+ 3. The truth about exercising during pregnancy
Pregnancy tips have changed a lot in the last few decades. For a long time, women were told to not exercise during pregnancy – my grandmother was supposed to stay in bed most of the time and not leave the house. When I was expecting my first baby she told me that lifting my arms could be harmful to the baby… Ha!
Not that long ago, pregnant Mamas were not allowed to “lift a finger”. Fortunately the guidelines have changed and unless there’s a known medical issue, exercising is now proven to have huge benefits for both you and your growing baby. Currently, pregnant women are encouraged to accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise on most - if not all - days of the week in the absence of medical or obstetric complications. However, remember that now isn’t the time to push your limits, and go for a new personal best. I’m always shocked when I see pregnant women running a marathon, doing Crossfit, or heavy lifting during pregnancy. I understand that some Mamas want to prove to themselves that pregnancy or motherhood isn’t going to affect their active lifestyle, but they should remember they are growing a baby… Their body doesn’t need intense hardcore workouts, it needs love and attention. Doing the right exercises can bring your pregnancy experience to a stellar level! Let’s dig into that…
+ 4. Re-connect with your deep core
Focusing on intentionally connecting your deep core to every movement and exercise is so beneficial, especially during these 9 special months. The Pelvic floor, transverse abdominis (the deeper layer of your abs) and diaphragm work together to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction, back pain, severe diastasis recti and other aches and pains. Since most of us aren’t connected to (or even aware of) our deep core in everyday life, reconnecting can take some time and practice to become familiar. Practicing abdominal breathing exercises daily is the best way to (re)discover your pelvic floor, and get in touch with your diaphragm. Anti diastasis recti exercises are incredibly beneficial to everyone, but especially to expecting women and new moms.
+ 5. Stretching – What about the abs?
Daily stretching plays a big part in your wellbeing during pregnancy as well as in your recovery after pregnancy. It’s a perfect way to stay in touch with your body and helps it adapt to its growing shape. The weight on your spine, hips, and belly affects your movements and breathing freedom. Gentle stretches can prevent a big ab separation, allow you to breathe more easily, move better and feel better.
So, should you stretch your abs or not? A quick answer is YES, but stay conservative. Your growing baby is pushing behind your ab mid-line. If you continue strengthening and tightening your abs, or if you forget about your posture, then your abs will need to separate width-wise to create some space for baby. However, IF you mind your posture and put your usual ab exercises on hold and gently stretch your abs, then you are actually helping your ab muscles to stretch lengthen-wise and limit the ab separation. Remember that the hormone Relaxin relaxes your ligaments naturally, so don’t go too deep into the stretch. It should always feel good and never initiate contractions!
+ 6. The too often missing piece: Posture!
Posture works hand in hand with your deep core. If your posture is correct then your breathing, pelvic floor and abs can function properly too. Learn from my mistakes… I skipped all the pages of my pregnancy guides talking about posture during my first pregnancy. You know… I wanted real exercises! Working on the posture sounded boring to me…
What a mistake! Because I had neglected my posture on daily basis I had developed pretty bad back pain, pelvic floor issues, and a diastasis recti! All of this could have be minimized or avoided if I had done the correct things. I was thinking of my body as a machine that could be repaired by a good chiropractor… I was completely off track.
The way we get up from bed, stand, walk, sit at a desk, sit on the couch, lie down on a yoga mat… and all the things we do without consciously thinking can have harmful effects or beneficial effects. Minding your posture and building new habits can take some time and effort but it’s so worth it! Simple changes can alleviate aches and pains, limit your ab separation (and even stretch marks!), allow you to breathe properly and tremendously increase your wellbeing!
+ 7. Let’s talk about breathing…
As we mentioned earlier, abdominal breathing exercises are fantastic, but proper breathing patterns during your daily life can make your pregnancy experience so much enjoyable. As you go further into your pregnancy, your baby and uterus will take up more and more space in your rib cage, pushing on your diaphragm. Many women become shallow breathers at this time – in other words, they breathe high into their chest instead of breathing fully and using their diaphragm optimally. Doing so can have a negative impact on your physical, mental and emotional state. If your posture is correct, then you’ll be able to breathe lower, into your belly as well. Your belly should move on the exhale and inhale. Even if your lung capacity has diminished you can still use your diaphragm effectively and greatly decrease your levels of stress and anxiety.
Your posture and breathing patterns are key to feeling your best and living a healthy pregnancy.
+ 8. Listen to yourself
You may experience good days and bad days. It’s important that you become able to recognize the difference between “I’m too lazy to exercise” and “My body is telling me to rest”. There are some days when you’ll feel fatigued and you’ll need to accept it. Your body simply tells you to rest. Gentle exercise can help to revitalize you, but keep in mind to workout at a level that reflects your energy and motivation that day.
+ 9. Make the time to relax
Easier said than done right!? Being able to relax may require an effort to disconnect from your busy life and simply focus on yourself, on your breathing and on the baby. Note that despite all your efforts, if your posture isn’t correct you won’t be able to breathe properly. Find your favorite positions to let go of the tensions, the stress and relax both your body and your mind as you breathe freely. If you’re into mediation, go for it! It’s such a great way to connect with your breathing and baby.
Also note that the more tense you are, the more painful contractions will be during labor. Being able to relax will have tremendous benefits once baby’s ready to meet you.
+ 10. Sooth Pain and discomfort
If pregnancy is a wonderful and magical time, it’s also a long haul of wild and wonderful aches, pains, and discomforts for many of us. Morning sickness, sleep issues, heartburn, leg cramps, back pain, groin pain, swollen feet, varicose veins, hemorrhoids,… Ha! Yes, the joys of the pregnancy! The list goes on and on. Nine months can sometimes feel like an eternity, but we need time to create life. Remember, when you finally get to meet that sweet little part of you, these discomforts will melt away. The good thing is that exercising, stretching and good posture can help improve most of your discomforts tremendously!
+ 11. Optimal weight gain
Gaining weight is not avoidable of course, it’s a healthy part of the whole deal! If you gain too little weight during pregnancy, you may have a higher risk for a premature delivery and a low birth weight infant. However, if you gain too much weight during pregnancy, it can put you and your baby at risk, and it will be more difficult to lose the weight after your baby is born. Most women who gain the suggested amount of weight lose it with the birth of the baby and in the months that follow.
Start by determining your Body Mass Index (BMI). It will give you some baseline information in order to figure out how much weight you should ideally gain during pregnancy. Click here to learn more
Ideally, you should be at a healthy weight (BMI range of 18,6 to 24,9) and in good shape before you get pregnant. If that’s your case and if you are pregnant with 1 baby, the guideline recommends gaining 25 to 35 pounds total.
Here’s a breakdown from the Institute of Medicine of how you should gain and when:
- First trimester: 2 – 4 pounds total
- Second trimester: 3 – 4 pounds per month (9 to 12 lbs total)
- Third trimester: 3- 4 pounds per month (9 to 12 lbs total)
+ 12. Drink water and mind what you eat
Choosing healthy, nutritious foods will help ensure the health of you, and your baby. As you must already know, water is essential to keep everything functioning well in your body and your baby’s body. It helps the body absorb essential nutrients into the cells and transports vitamins, minerals and hormones to the blood cells and ultimately to your baby.
Fluid needs increase during your pregnancy and I recommend you aim for 2-3 liters a day (8 glasses of 8-10 ounces). Fluids such as milk, juice and other non-caffeinated drinks also count toward your daily fluid requirements. Prioritize water and try to space out your sips to keep them coming steadily throughout the day. I love fresh fruit infused water, it continues to help me drink enough during the day even now. It’s important to note that if you feel thirsty, it’s a sign that your body is already on its way to being dehydrated.
Now, what about food? With all the information out there about diet and nutrition it’s easy to become confused by it all. In a nutshell, a healthy lifestyle can be defined by three words: Balance, Variety, and Moderation. If you’re searching for detailed information about pregnancy and nutrition, I highly suggest you visit The “Daily Food Plan for Moms”, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It’s a free online resource that provides tools for building an eating plan for pregnant and lactating women. It’s a gold mine of information and healthy tips.
I hope these few healthy pregnancy tips help you to understand what’s best for yourself and your baby during this special time. Changing habits can be tough, but pregnancy is the perfect time to reset and focus on yourself. Your mental health and wellbeing are as important as your physical health for the development of your growing baby.
These tips for a healthy pregnancy can put you in the best position to manage the challenges of pregnancy. So, allow yourself to feel good in your pregnant body, and simply learn the way to fully inhabit this temporary shape.
Making the most of these 9 months with these tips and then starting safe postnatal exercises will help you recover quicker and better after baby arrives. Enjoy this time and revel in the fact that a woman’s body is truly amazing!